People-smuggling should be treated “on a par” with terrorism, Sir Keir Starmer has said, as he promised new measures aimed at preventing small boat crossings if Labour wins the next general election.
Deepening intelligence ties with Europe as part of a new post-Brexit security pact and strengthening powers to restrict the movement of those suspected of organised immigration crime would be part of the plan.
The Labour leader said: “The first job of any government is national security – protecting the British people from threats that come from here and overseas.
“The Government’s failure to tackle the criminal smuggling gangs orchestrating boat crossings is now so profound that I believe it needs to be considered on a par with the other three big security threats we face: climate change, hostile foreign powers and terrorism.”
Sir Keir is seeking to emphasise his credentials as former director of public prosecutions during a visit to The Hague with shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper this week.
Taking a hard-line stance on immigration crime will be seen as important to convince swing voters that Labour can be trusted to stem the number of Channel crossings, which have passed 22,200 in 2023, in the run-up to a likely general election next year.
As part of its plans, Labour says it would work to reach a new agreement to share real-time intelligence with the EU similar to the Schengen Information System II, a database of terror suspects and immigration offenders which the UK had automatic access to before Brexit.
The party has also vowed to strengthen powers to restrict the movement of people smugglers and traffickers by making it quicker and easier to obtain civil orders known as serious crime prevention orders.
“My Labour government will be twice as ruthless, to smash the gangs and secure British borders,” Sir Keir said.
“These criminal smuggling gangs are growing fat on the Government’s failures, while the Tories ramp up empty rhetoric around illegal immigration for cheap headlines.”
Sir Keir’s meeting with Europol officials at The Hague comes ahead of a trip to Montreal, Canada, for a summit of “progressive” politicians.
Reports suggest he is also set to be hosted by French president Emmanuel Macron in Paris next week.
The Labour leader has met several European leaders during his tenure, including German chancellor Olaf Scholz, Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky and then-Irish premier Micheal Martin.
He could also be eyeing a meeting in the White House with US president Joe Biden in the coming months, whose “Bidenomics” and landmark green subsidy push has attracted admiration from the Opposition.